James D. Roberts, a retired Shawnee fire chief who died Friday in a traffic accident, is being remembered as a progressive chief who propelled the Shawnee Fire Department forward during his career of service in the community he loved.

James D. Roberts, a retired Shawnee fire chief who died Friday in a traffic accident, is being remembered as a progressive chief who propelled the Shawnee Fire Department forward during his career of service in the community he loved.

The accident involving three vehicles occurred about 10:01 a.m. in the westbound lanes of Interstate 40 near Douglas Boulevard in Midwest City. Roberts, 60, of Shawnee, died at the scene, the Oklahoma Highway Patrol reported.

Roberts, who started working at the Shawnee Fire Department in March 1980, worked his way up in rank and then served seven years of his fire service career as the city's fire chief. He also served in emergency management and human resources before retiring from the city in August 2001 and continuing his military career.

Many firefighters who worked with him over the years were shocked and saddened to hear about his death on Friday.

Current Shawnee Fire Chief Dru Tischer said Roberts was the fire chief who hired him early on in his career. Tischer credits Roberts for being a “progressive” fire chief responsible for many advancements.

“The progress our department made while he was chief is remarkable,” Tischer said, adding that Roberts cared for firefighters and made sure they had the equipment and training they needed to do the job.

“I had a tremendous amount of respect for James and what he did,” Tischer added. “He was just an all-around good guy — a good chief. This is big loss.”

Shawnee Emergency Management Director Don Lynch was recruited by Roberts, who hired him.

“I always thought a lot of James... he worked very hard to improve conditions at the fire department and for all of the city,” Lynch said. “He was always caring and dedicated.”

Tischer said Roberts, while chief, implemented a lot of things that are still in use today, such as the firefighter logo that serves as their patch while also being displayed on the sides of every fire truck. He also helped get things started with firefighters responding to medical calls, Tischer said, and was progressive in starting yearly firefighter physicals that still continue today because of all the hazards firefighters are subjected to on the job.

“He blazed a trail in a lot of things,” he said, “and pushed us forward.”

Retired Battalion Chief Chalk Norton agreed. He said a lot of the things Roberts did as chief were innovative for that time.

“He was a good firefighter and a good chief,” he said. “He was concerned about the safety of citizens and firefighters.”

For others, including retired Battalion Chief Curt Lamastus, Roberts was more of a mentor.

And while Roberts had a sense of humor and was known as being somewhat of a prankster with his fellow firefighters, Lamastus said he was always involved in everything and didn't miss out on any of the action.

“If something was going on, he was right in the middle of it,” he said.

In addition to his years in the fire service and working for the city of Shawnee, Roberts also had a military career working as a chief warrant officer.

Tischer said Roberts is survived by his wife and a daughter who just started college.

Services are pending.